The workforce is getting older and organisations face a huge leak of valuable knowledge. How can HR help to stem the tide, asks Stephanie Sparrow?
Japanese factory worker Katsuya Hyodo has become a symbol of his time. The 72- year-old maker of automotive cylinders hit a nerve with businesses worldwide when he was profiled in the newspaper USA Today. Hyodo has spent his spare time transcribing 30 years' worth of manufacturing knowledge onto a home computer to create a dossier, which he hopes to hand over to his successors.
Hyodo's story shows that, as workforce demographics change, retaining knowledge has become one of the key issues in talent management.
On one hand, younger people now tend to follow 'portfolio careers', where they take between seven and nine jobs within their lifetime. On the other, some sectors face a demographic timebomb, as huge portions of their workforce approach retirement age. Both trends mean that a flow of valuable knowledge is escaping from organisations.
"We need to look at how we communicate and how we capture experience, and think more flexibly about working practices and how a job can be adapted to older workers," says Peter Cheese, managing partner of human performance at Accenture.
The forthcoming age discrimination legislation will also open the doors for people to stay in employment longer, but this does not mean they will stay in the same career.
"As people realise that they will spend a greater proportion of their life span at work, they are also thinking that they might want to try out other careers," says Isabel McGarvie, partner in HR services at professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. Many workers in their mid-40s and 50s are returning to study, she adds.
Employers are also struggling to hold on to valuable older workers thanks to the closure of many final salary pension schemes. At the same time, increasingly nervous younger people who are still in work are protecting their market value by keeping knowledge to themselves. "The focus is on being lean and mean, but not on assessing the effects of their current skills profile on business performance," says McGarvie.
But this could prove costly. A recent survey by consulting firm Accenture found that 60% of employers